The Supreme Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, yesterday reversed a decision that had denied unemployment benefits to a former employee of a grocery store located in the Princeton area. The employee’s positions with the store were variously located in the sub shop, photo department, personnel department, and on the merchandise floor.
After developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and osteoporosis, the employee went out on short-term disability for over 5 months. Her doctor released her to work with a 10-pound weight restriction and a restriction on standing for no more than 3 1/2 hours at a time.
Upon her return to work, the store offered the employee a position busing tables at night, which she could not do because her husband didn’t drive at night and her listed work availability had always ended at 6pm, since the beginning of her employment.
Then the store offered her a job cleaning the employee break room. She rejected this job, stating that she could not do cleaning. A month later, she produced a doctor’s note stating that she could not do cleaning or mopping.
In the store’s employee manual was a statement that upon returning from disability leave, an employee would be returned to the same or equivalent position. New Jersey unemployment law states that employees only need to accept suitable work, taking their health into account.
The facts that: 1) The employee had never before been required to do cleaning work; 2) She was almost 64 when she returned from disability, wearing a back brace and suffering from arthritis, COPD and osteoporosis; and 3) Her doctor provided notes showing that the employee was incapable of performing the work offered, persuaded the court that the job offered to the employee was not suitable work.
The court concluded that the Board of Review was wrong in its decision denying benefits based on the employee quitting without good cause, and determined that the employee is eligible for unemployment benefits.
Although it is not clear based on the facts presented, this case seems to raise issues in addition to the employee’s qualification for unemployment benefits. Issues appear to arise under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and or the Family Leave Act (FLA), as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, cases under those laws are very fact-specific and cannot be evaluated adequately under the facts recited by the court.